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Macbeth

Shakespeare
Sheffield Theatres
The Crucible, Sheffield

Claudie Blakley as Lady Macbeth and Geoffrey Streatfeild as Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson
Geoffrey Streatfeild as Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson
Claudie Blakley as Lady Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson

This is a wonderfully atmospheric production of Macbeth. The Crucible auditorium adapts easily to an in-the-round setting with the added advantage that director Daniel Evans can make good use of the technical resources of the theatre for some stunning special effects.

A dark stone circle with rising mist dominates the action and means that the forces of the supernatural are never far away. Dramatic use of low cross lighting adds to the effect and sudden vertical shafts of light delineate areas and important moments in the action.

The soundscape throughout is stunning: we hear the temple-haunting martlets when Duncan arrives at Inverness; the thundering on the door at the beginning of the Porter scene; extraordinary (and beautiful) regal music at the opening of the Banquet scene; and throughout eerie electronic effects which combine with thunder and lightning to remind us that sinister forces are at work.

This is a production of admirable clarity. Duncan (Andrew Jarvis) is presented as a humane and warm hearted king, which makes "the deep damnation of his taking off" all the more perfidious. In the banquet scene, which is probably the best I’ve ever seen, Macbeth’s terror of the ghost and disruption of the feast is incomprehensible to the guests who can see nothing; while Lady Macbeth’s attempts to calm the situation give way to an almost hysterical effort to get the guests out of the castle as soon as possible before Macbeth incriminates himself further.

The porter (Christopher Logan) adds light relief at a crucial moment and the humour of the scene, for once, is modern and genuinely funny. Other moments of clarity and emotional truth include Macduff’s response on hearing about the assassination of his family ("He has no children. All my pretty ones?"); and Siward’s to the death of his son, ("Had he his hurts before. Why then, God’s soldier be he").

This mourning of fathers for the loss of their children is in contrast to Macbeth’s increasing callousness in ordering executions. In a telling moment in this production, Macbeth can hardly get the words out when he tells the murderers to kill Fleance as well as Banquo. Later, after his second visit to the witches, he determines to "give to the edge of the sword / (Macduff’s) wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line". The witches and their prophecies have claimed him.

There are many strong performances in this production, but at its heart, inevitably, is the progression of Macbeth from loyal subject to tryrant, to disillusioned plaything of manipulative dark forces; and Lady Macbeth from scheming, ambitious dominatrix to broken woman.

Geoffrey Streatfeild is particularly strong in the first half, notably in the banquet scene. In the second half, I was looking for more contrast between the plangency of the highly poetic speeches of despair, and the half-mad, half-wild determination to go down fighting.

Claudie Blakley is single-minded, passionate and abrasive in the early scenes and signals the beginning of her decline at the end of the banquet scene. Her performance in the sleep walking scene is harrowing, isolated in a harsh down light. Blakley delivers a huge elongated sigh of despair, which is deeply moving. "What a sigh is there", says the doctor, "The heart is sorely charged".

There is much to enjoy and appreciate in this production. In the cauldron scene when the witches are making their magic brew, each item that goes into the pot is briefly shown to the audience. Seeing the tongue of dog, lizard’s leg, maw of shark, etc. go into the cauldron made me much more attentive to the language, and made me think of spell making as quite an arduous activity. It’s so difficult to get the ingredients these days!

Reviewer: Velda Harris